Bless Me Father Image

Bless Me Father

By Bradley Gibson | July 3, 2023

The gangster thriller Bless Me Father takes a deep dive into the moral issues of a violent initiation to a New Jersey mob family. Vinny (Gianni McLaughlin, who also wrote and directed) finds himself ill-suited to be a made man as he struggles with the moral dilemmas of life in the mob. We first meet him in a confessional with a priest, Father Joe (Joseph McLaughlin), after showing up at church covered in mud with an emotional crisis. His story is then told in flashbacks.

Vinny was ripped off while doing business for a Colombian drug boss, who threatens his life for the money he’s owed. In desperation, he turns to a connected friend, Antonio (Giacomo Vanacore), who approaches his don (Paris Branda) and asks him to hire Vinny. Vinny’s father was a well-known figure in the family, which gives him an in. The don agrees to bring Vinny on as a soldier, with the understanding that he expects complete loyalty and obedience and offers no second chances. Vinny’s relief at this sudden, incredible reversal of fortune is short-lived when it becomes clear what it will mean to be the don’s man. He is soon faced with a series of moral challenges that will test whether he’s prepared to live this life and thus doom his soul. This turns out to be a life-or-death question for Vinny.

Bless Me Father is a solid film. It’s beautifully shot, with a compelling soundtrack, and the performances are spot-on. The editing is tight, and the pace never drags. Production values hit all the marks. This is clearly a passion project for McLaughlin. He’s cast family in it, including his wife Milly-May as Vinny’s girlfriend. He also cast non-actors from his neighborhood. He has achieved an undeniable authenticity, and his performance as Vinny carries the film with grace and talent. The film should open doors for the young director/writer/actor.

The don agrees to bring Vinny on as a soldier…”

That said, there are some problematic elements. The gangster genre is not played out, of course, as long as there is human drama to be explored in that pressure cooker of crime, violence, and family loyalty. But, that said, Bless Me Father doesn’t bring much new to the table. Vinny finds he has something of a conscience, which screws up his career plans in a big way. However, it is unclear whether he’s acting on the basis of moral imperative or if he just doesn’t have the stones he needs to be this violent person. As the mafia don says early on, we should not mistake kindness for weakness. In Vinny’s case, it’s hard to differentiate.

Also, there’s the inevitable strip club. The Sopranos famously had Bada Bing. Bless Me Father has an unnamed Gentleman’s Club where meetings take place, as the don keeps his office hours at the club. It’s uncomfortable to see the actresses dancing as strippers at the club as background props. They are never fully nude, which is odd, but they are nearly naked enough to wonder if that was at all necessary. It’s a strangely jarring aspect that takes viewers out of the moment. Instead of focusing on the dialogue, one wonders whether having strippers is really pivotal to lending authenticity, and if it is, then why are they not nude? It’s a minor nitpick, but, as with the rest of the film, if you’re going down the well-traveled road of the mob genre, you need to raise the bar or at least meet it. Fans of the genre are experts. After six seasons of The Sopranos, we know what a strip club should look like.

None of these minor considerations are fatal to the film’s overall impact, which remains well-acted and entertaining throughout. We can expect more great films like Bless Me Father from McLaughlin. This is just the beginning.

Bless Me Father (2023)

Directed and Written: Gianni McLaughlin

Starring: Gianni McLaughlin, John Barnett, Paris Branda, Giacomo Vanacore, Milly-May McLaughlin, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Bless Me Father Image

"…well-acted and entertaining..."

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